THE MAJORITY OF IRAQIS WOULD AGREE that their country's emerging and fragile democracy is deeply flawed. Though not demanding the removal of Iraq's government, demonstrations in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Ramadi, Diwaniya, Fallujah and Tikrit underline the acute level of popular frustration felt towards a government that has failed to respond to public needs. Demonstrators since early February 2011 have called for an end to chronic shortages of food, water and electricity, in addition to an end to corruption, economic and political mismanagement and the creation of more jobs. While Prime Minister Al Maliki is seeking to discourage further protests and diffuse public pressure, tensions between the political blocs, which form Iraq's government, will remain high and possibly increase further.
Al Maliki's combined use of stick and carrot to reduce the momentum of protests has been controversial. A disproportionately ruthless crackdown, including arrests, beatings and use of live ammunition by the security forces against protesters, was accompanied by promises of change and material incentives to improve the lot of the Iraqi population. While parliament's financial commission has indicated the government will create 288,000 new jobs, the prime minister has also pledged to grant each citizen 15,000 dinars (approximately $12) a month to compensate for reduced food rations. The country, according to Al Maliki, will no longer face electricity shortages by winter--a promise which some independent observers regard as unrealistic.
Political partners Iraq's prime minister has also made personal gestures to the public while endeavouring to deflect criticism for his failings as a leader. Al Maliki has promised to slash his own salary--believed to exceed $350,000 per annum--by half. While pledging not to seek a third term in office, he has also ordered cabinet ministers to pull their socks up. Following an emergency cabinet meeting in late-February, the prime minister announced that he would give government ministers 100 days to tackle corruption and deliver results in their respective areas of responsibility or face the sack.
Provincial councils and governors have been used as scapegoats for the failings of central government. Following an anti-climactic 'Day of Rage' by protesters on 25 February, Al Maliki declared provincial council elections would be held early. Members of Iraq's provincial councils were quick to reject the announcement, arguing that the...